Destination Guide to Turkey
Centuries of Ottoman Empire rule helped to spread Turkish cuisine and ingredients throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where many well-known recipes show an influence. A few examples are: yoghurt salads, stuffed vegetables, fish cooked in olive oil and syrupy filo pastry desserts.
The Turkish cuisine is regarded as one of the world’s greatest and the Mediterranean diet is certainly a healthy one to follow. Despite the now heavy influences of fast- food chains and more western-style foods in the major cities, restaurants and indeed family homes have managed to hold on to the more traditional Turkish recipes. In recent years, Turkish restaurants have certainly become more popular in European cities as chefs re-create an authentic meal for the ever inquisitive customer.
The sheer size of the country and her seasonable climate enables Turkey to grow produce such as tomatoes, melons and red peppers in the hotter south, and Turkish tea and wheat in the cooler north. Turkey also lies on four different seas (Black sea, Mamara sea, Aegean sea and the Mediterranean sea) and these provide the country with endless fish and shellfish. In fact, Turkey is one of the few countries in the world to be completely self-sustaining as far as food is concerned.
Laws passed by the Ottomans insisted that food should be served fresh at all times, and modern Turks have certainly abided by the same rules. Just wandering around the local village markets proves this, as you see the displays of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables, olives in huge barrels with bay leaves and lemons, bottles of olive oil, Pekmez (grape molasses) and Tahin (sesame paste) and local cheeses just waiting to be tasted. Every village has a bakery where bread is baked at least twice a day, delicious served hot with butter and local cheese or simply just dipped in olive oil.
To sample a selection of delicious Turkish dishes, simply visit one of the more traditional styles of Turkish restaurant such as a Lokanta (soup kitchen) or a kebap Salon. Listed below, are a number of the more common dishes that are certainly worth a try during your stay
A grand selection of hot and cold starters, either served on one or several plates. Similar to Spanish Tapas, though more substantial. Famous mezes include: Zeytinyağli Fasulye (green beans), Kalamari, Ezme (spicy tomato salsa), Haydari (yoghurt and mint) and Dolma (stuffed vegetables) to name but a few!
Muçver (Courgette fritters) – A delicious combination of grated courgette, white cheese and dill in a batter, lightly fried and generally served warm with a yoghurt dip. Must be eaten fresh from the pan!
Sigara Böreği – Deep-fried filo pastry, rolled into a cigar shape and filled with white cheese and parsley. They are served hot and appear on every Turkish menu!
Yaprak Sarma Dolması
Vine leaves stuffed with either rice
or minced lamb mixed with mint and Turkish spices.
A split aubergine filled with tomatoes and onions. This dish translates as the priest fainted! According to legend, when the Imam was served this dish he fainted in shock at how delicious it was, hence the name!
A very tasty, albeit strong, garlic dip traditionally made with yoghurt and chunks of cucumber. Generally served with main courses consisting of meat.
Slices of döner meat (lamb) served on a bed of pide bread, covered with a spicy tomato sauce and yoghurt served on the side. Hot clarified butter is poured over the top of this dish as it is being served.
Şiş kebap – Diced chicken or lamb, barbequed and served on a skewer with rice and salad.
Köfte – Homemade grilled meatballs of either ground beef or lamb, generally served with rice, salad and chips.
Turkish-style ravioli covered in a delicious garlic yoghurt sauce topped with paprika and melted butter.
Güveç – A meat or vegetable casserole topped with melted cheese, served in a clay pot.
Pide – A Turkish-style flatbread pizza with a selection of delicious toppings such as ground mince and onions, white cheese and peppers and spinach and egg.
Gözleme – Turkish pancakes cooked on a hot iron plate and served with a variety of fillings such as white cheese and parsley, potato and meat and chocolate and banana!
Layers of filo pastry filled with nuts, often pistachios or walnuts, soaked in honey syrup. Sickly but delicious!
Turkish rice pudding with a burnt cinnamon top, always served cold!
Layers of shredded wheat, with a white cheese centre drenched in honey syrup served straight from the oven. A definite favourite!!
There are many different varieties of this delicious sesame honey dessert. More often it is served in slices at the end of a meal.
A refreshing drink made from yoghurt, salt and water mixed together and generally served ice-cold in a tall glass. The best hangover cure yet invented!
A thick and strong local coffee, served in thimble-sized cups as Sade (no sugar), Orta (medium sugar) or Sekerli (a lot of sugar)
Turkish black tea, served day and night in tulip- shaped glasses with lots of sugar.
You will found that most restaurants and bars serve either Efes or Pilsen, a Turkish lager.
An aniseed-flavoured spirit distilled from pressed grapes. Generally drunk mixed with water and ice with an extra glass of water on the side. An excellent accompaniment to Meze and fish. Rumour has it that if you had a lot of Raki to drink the night before, clearing your head with a glass of water the next day will only start the process off again!!
Raki is also known as ‘Aslan Suyu’ or ‘lion’s milk’, and is the national alcoholic drink of Turkey.
Surprisingly, Turkish wine is quite palatable and all licensed restaurants will offer a generous selection of red, white and rose wines produced in Turkey.
There are two main producers ‘Doluca’ & ‘Kavaklidere’.
Here are a few popular wines that you may come across:
Cankaya – A dry white
Angora Beyaz – A fruit dry white
Narince – A dry white with an oaky taste
Lal – A fruity dry rose
Yakut – A fruity light bodied red
Angora Kirmizi – A well rounded red
Şerefe! – Cheers!
There are two types of lager widely available. Efes Pilsen is the local brand and is extremely palatable. Tuborg is a Danish beer produced under licence in Turkey. Both are served either on draught (fıçı bira) or in a bottle (şişe bira). However they come, they provide welcome refreshment!
Imported spirits are available and while you may find them quite expensive, they are usually served in double measures. For an equally big measure, Turkish spirits – gin, vodka and brandy – are cheaper than their UK equivalent and when served with appropriate mixers, they are equally as enjoyable. There is also a wide range of Turkish-produced liqueurs (mint, almond, banana and orange) which provide a more interesting end to a meal!
A wide variety of non-alcoholic drinks is also available such as Coke, Fanta, Sprite and mineral water. Also look out for the endless range of soft fruit drinks sold in cartons, such as Vişne (sour cherry), Şeftali (peach) and Portakal (orange).
The local çaybahcesi (tea garden) is a meeting place for friends and families to enjoy a leisurely ‘chat and çay’. During your time in Turkey you will definitely be offered tea at some stage, whether in someone’s home or even while browsing in shops and markets. If you prefer a different taste, there are various herbal and fruit-flavoured teas available, such as elma çay (apple tea) which is lighter and refreshingly sweet!
Çaysız shobet, aysiz gok yuzu gibidir
(Conversation without tea is like the night sky without the moon)
Piyaz- bean salad- is served differently through-out Turkey; this is the way it is served in the Antalya region with Tahini (sesame paste and garlic)
1 tin cooked white beans
1 onion, cut finely in half-moons
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed pepper
1 or two hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
- In a bowl mix the tahini, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic for the dressing. It shouldn’t be too runny or thick. If the dressing you make with the measures above is thick then add some of the juice from the can. If it is too runny you can thicken it with Tahini.
- Pour the tahini dressing over the beans and mix them well.
- Slice the onion thinly. In a bowl mix it with 1 tsp of salt and then rinse.
- Mix the beans with onion and parsley.
- Decorate the bean salad with tomatoes and slices of hardboiled egg.
Muçver (Courgette Fritters)
5 Spring Onions, sliced
50g white cheese, diced
½ bunch dill, chopped
2 small green peppers (mild), sliced
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon salt
4 heaped dessert spoons of flour
1 cup oil
- Grate the courgettes coarsely
- Mix the courgettes with onion, dill, peppers, eggs, mint, cheese and salt.
- Stir in the flour. The texture should be like a lumpy cake mix.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and use a spoon to drop heaped desert spoonful’s of the mixture into the oil.
- When the patter is cooked on one side turn them over. The patties should be soft to touch.
- Drain them on kitchen paper
They are best served warm (they will spoil if reheated)
(Fried Aubergine with Yoghurt sauce)
2 aubergines, peeled and cut in round slices
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sun flower oil
1/2 cup yogurt
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
2 tbsp. dill, chopped
- Put the aubergine slices into a bowl of milk and leave for about 30 minutes.
- Put the flour into another bowl and dip the aubergine slices into them until they are fully covered.
- Heat up the oil and fry the aubergine slices until both sides take a light golden colour, you might want to soak them on kitchen before serving just to get rid of the excess oil.
- Arrange on a serving plate and serve with the yogurt dip while the slices are still crunchy.This is a perfect dish as a meze and to accompany a barbecue.
3 tomatoes- diced
2 mild peppers – sliced
1 onion – chopped
10-15 sprigs parsley -chopped
¼ cup oil
Salt & pepper
- Gently fry the onions until soft, add the peppers and stir for a few minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes until the liquid has evaporated.
- Beat the eggs with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Keep stirring until the eggs are cooked but not dry.
- Towards the end of the cooking stir in the parsley.
- Serve with some fresh bread.
You can also add sujuk (spicy sausage) to give it a bit of a kick. This dish can be served for breakfast as well as throughout the day.
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup cucumber, diced
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
Fresh dill, chopped
- Mix the garlic, salt, yogurt and water in a medium sized bowl.
- Add diced cucumber and mix again. With a ladle pour into small bowls and then add 1 tbsp. of olive oil on top of each. Garnish with fresh dill.
This is also a great side dish to go with barbecued meats and rice.
Patates Salatası (Turkish Potato salad)
2 medium sized yellow potatoes
60 ml extra virgin olive
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
2 fresh spring onions, chopped
some red onion, sliced
- Boil the potatoes in water. Remove the skin and cut them in medium sized chunks. Whisk all the sauce ingredients.
- Toss it with the potatoes while they are still warm. Sprinkle fresh spring and red onions all over, serve
This is an acquired taste but is very good for you especially if you are suffering from de-hydration. It is thought to have originated from preserving yoghurt with salt. In rural areas of Turkey, ayran is offered as the standard drink to welcome guests.
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
- Add all the ingredients and mix well (use a blender if you have one). When it is ready you will see bubbles and that’s the best part.
The drink shouldn’t be thick and should be served cold.
The word “yogurt”:
The word comes from the Turkish word “yoğurt”, deriving from the verb “yoğurtmak”, which means “to blend” – a reference to how yogurt is made.
Turk Cayı (Turkish Tea)
Wherever you go in Turkey tea is offered as a sign of friendship and hospitality. Nearly all the tea in Turkey is produced in the Rize province on the eastern Black Sea coast. It only really became popular in the 1930’s though when Ataturk encouraged people to drink tea rather than coffee which had become expensive and sometimes unavailable after World War 1.
4 Tsps. Turkish Tea leaves (can be bought from any market)
3 Cups of bottled water
To make Turkish tea you should really use a Caydanlık which is a small tea pot-brewer (demlik) on top of a kettle.
- Pour the 3 cups of water into the larger kettle.
- Put the Turkish tea leaves into the teapot and place it on top of the kettle. Bring the water to the boil over a medium heat.
- Pour half the boiling water from the kettle over the leaves into the teapot and let it brew for about 5 minutes.
- Pour the brewed tea into tea glasses using a small tea strainer but only half full. Fill the rest of the glass with hot water
- Serve with sugar cubes to sweeten to taste